Navigating Collaborative Projects While Still Being a Team Player

Public library work provides a lot of opportunities to collaborate, create, and work on a team.  These experiences can be rewarding, but if there isn’t clear communication, firm boundaries, and documentation, issues could surface from simple misunderstandings to larger ethical considerations.

One of the more important ethical considerations is one of receiving credit.  While many of us don’t go into a project seeking glory for ourselves, we cannot assume that people contributing to the project have the same motivations as us.  As the Harvard Business Review article on this very topic states, “It matters who gets credit.”

Taking credit for someone else’s work and ideas is widely considered a big no no within academic communities and professional environments.  Despite the widespread disapproval for such behavior, it is actually extremely common.  It’s definitely a frustrating situation to be in to discover a colleague claiming credit for your work either with upper management, publishing content in the professional community,  or seeking awards for themselves using your work.  The reasons for credit stealers are varied and range from a misunderstanding of someone’s role to something more egregious that can be fueled by an overly competitive work culture to just specific personality types that are more prone to this kind of behavior.

Whatever the reasons are for this scenario, it is important to go into any projects with colleagues using tips and strategies to help protect your creative work.  The goal of these strategies is to hopefully prevent issues from happening while still keeping relationships positive.

When you create a new service, project, or collection at work and there is someone else contributing, begin conversations and documentation right away. Clarify each other’s roles, but also discuss how credit will be allocated.  If the project was your idea, make it clear.  I’d even suggest communicating and documenting how the project should be shared in the professional community.  Consider discussing how to handle publishing information about a project, presenting at conferences, and submitting applications to receive awards.  Every project is different and answers will change depending on the project, but try to have these conversations at the beginning of any collaboration to make sure everyone is on the same page.

If you haven’t yet had those conversations and notice a colleague presenting your idea and work as theirs, address it right away.  The best strategy for this communication is to not assume the worst of your colleague, but address it by simply stating what you noticed and that you’d like to clarify each other’s roles.  After having that conversation, create documentation of what was discussed.  While still extending grace towards your colleague, you can still be proactive about protecting your work by setting those boundaries.  Do not assume anything with professional relationships because everyone has a different set of assumptions, motivations, and understandings for best practices related to work projects. 

Great leadership involves communication, but also a generosity of spirit. Model generous credit sharing because it demonstrates leadership that is rooted in service to others.  Have conversations with your colleagues when working together about how each of you can receive recognition for a project. The goal should be to work well together and to lift each other up because that is what makes an excellent team.  While receiving recognition for yourself might feel great in the moment, think about the reputation you are building for yourself in the long term.  Don’t be the person at work who is known as the credit stealer.  As the saying goes, a rising tide should aim to lift all boats.  Strive to be the generous one because it matters more than any temporary applause you might get from external attention. 

We have no control over who the people are that we work with or how they might behave, but we do have control over how we choose to work with others. Not every project needs a collaborator, so you can also decide for yourself if you want someone else’s contributions.  Work projects mean different things to different people so getting credit for one project might not be as important as receiving credit for another one.  Whatever the stakes are for you on any given project, it’s a good exercise to utilize these best practices to help protect your work while keeping your relationships with colleagues nice, light, and polite.

Today’s guest contributor is Elizabeth K Forkan. Elizabeth is a writer, artist, and librarian who spent the last ten years serving family and children in the public library with an emphasis on trauma-informed practices. She has a special interest in providing services and collections that serve new parents and babies and is committed to providing services that reach marginalized populations. Elevating all voices within communities that public libraries serve is another professional interest and passion. Besides being a librarian, she also runs an adventure travel company, Vacation Writing, that offers international writing retreats. She also co-hosts a podcast Juxtapose that pairs together two different works of art and explores how they overlap and speak to one another. 

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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